Satya Nadella was unanimously elected as executive chairman of Microsoft on Thursday, nearly three decades after he joined the iconic software maker that has since transformed into a cloud computing giant under the watch of the India-born chief executive and is now the world’s second most valuable company after phone maker Apple. Nadella is only the second chief executive officer, after cofounder Bill Gates, to also serve as the chairman of the US$143 billion global technology corporation.
The soft-spoken 54-year old, architect of Microsoft’s aggressive makeover into one of the world’s leading providers of cloud computing services under the Azure brand, has overseen the rise in the company’s market capitalisation by a whopping 600 per cent to nearly US$2 trillion, while revenues have nearly doubled from US$77.85 billion in financial year 2013. Microsoft follows the July-June financial year. Nadella replaced Steve Ballmer as CEO of the Seattle-headquartered giant in 2014, at the same time that Gates stepped down as chairman of the company’s board to be replaced by John Thompson.
“What he (Nadella) has accomplished is absolutely extraordinary. He deserves this,” said co-founder and chairman of Infosys, Nandan Nilekani. “He has demonstrated how the leadership of a technology company should be in this day and age.”
Nadella joins a swelling roster of India-born executives who now occupy the chair at some of the world’s largest corporations. Fellow-Hyderabad native Shantanu Narayen, a friend and guide to Nadella, has been the CEO and chairman of Adobe since December 2007. Mastercard elevated its CEO Ajaypal Singh Banga as its chairman in January this year. Google CEO Sundar Pichai was elevated as CEO of Alphabet, the holding company in December 2019, after founder Larry Page stepped down.
In a statement on Thursday, Microsoft said that Thompson will continue to serve as an independent director, while Nadella “will lead the work to set the agenda for the board, leveraging his deep understanding of the business to elevate the right strategic opportunities and identify key risks and mitigation approaches for the board’s review”.
Nadella took charge at Microsoft at a time when the personal computer-focused company was struggling to make the shift to a world of mobile-led computing and was steeped in corporate culture that accorded primacy to internal competitiveness. The Hyderabad-born chief executive, who moved to the US for a graduate degree in engineering, swept in fundamental changes by introducing a collaborative team culture while shifting the business focus from selling yearly software licences to the pay-as-you-rent model even as he led the adoption of cloud as the driver of future growth.
“He has made Microsoft adopt the cloud and make it so relevant. The company has successfully dealt with the pandemic,” said Nilekani, whose company is one of the major partners for Microsoft.
In addition, Microsoft has also moved to partner with arch rivals such as Apple that has helped install Office software on iPhones, the de facto device for enterprise users globally. Nadella also wagered billions on smart acquisitions including that of GitHub, LinkedIn, Nuance and Minecraft. These deals have delivered handsome rewards to Microsoft.